Here is another dose of good news before I move on to the less satisfying bits of information. Newly-appointed Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz plans to increase his Department's focus on energy efficiency. This is good news because we could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and a destructive grid if we take advantage of opportunities to make our homes and businesses more efficient, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The 30 cities with the most potential energy efficiency savings could cut a combined 261,107 gigawatt hours (GWh). To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of shutting down dozens of dirty fossil fuel plants. That energy savings is also the equivalent of nearly 241 desert-destroying solar projects like BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar facility, which has already decimated 5.6 square miles of pristine Mojave Desert habitat.
What is frustrating is that the good news we receive is always in small morsels, and we cannot expect policymakers to commit to a more sustainable path. The framework of econimic growth is deeply rooted in the exploitation of our wildlands. Public lands and wildlife are a currency traded by our policymakers as a favor to big industry, and we are even reminded of that when the White House talks about clean energy. A White House official expressed concern during a speech in April that climate and environmental stability are a priority for the White House, but most of the transcript boasts about how the United States has increased oil and gas production; the bulk of the speech discussed fossil fuels in a proud fashion. This should signal that newly-appointed Secretary Moniz's interest in energy efficiency is unlikely to be the centerpiece of the Obama administration's energy policy; instead, fossil fuels are likely to reign supreme for decades to come as Washington helps industry invest billions in exploration and extraction of carbon resources. The White House official's speech makes it clear that we will be a nation hooked on natural gas once we kick our coal habit. Not long after the speech, Washington's "Arctic Strategy" was unveiled, and ironically focuses on taking advantage of melting ice caps to find new places to harvest fossil fuels, instead of seeking ways to limit or ban extraction of oil there.
The past few weeks have also shown that Washington makes its decisions affecting wildlands and wildlife after viewing the problem set through the same distorted political prism through which it views its energy decisions; the same prism that led it to permit the southern half of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and allow wind companies to kill California condors and golden eagles. We received a jolting reminder this past week when the Department of Interior announced plants to strip the gray wolf of endangered species protection, even as local policies have unleashed hunters and trappers against the animal. We almost drove these creatures extinct, then invested in their recovery, and now we are about to hunt them down again.
This administration lacks an overarching environmental strategy. It is sadly reactive to many agendas, without an ability to reconcile conflicting principles. We can create jobs through more natural gas fracking, and we can clean the air by destroying golden eagles and condors. Wolves are a political inconvenience, not a keystone species that we should seek to restore to our wildlands. But the most obvious indicator of the White House's neglect for sustainability as an overarching framework is the fact that distributed generation and energy efficiency remains a talking point backed up only by weak Federal action. The Federal Housing Finance Agency continues to block property assessed clean energy (PACE), a financing tool for rooftop solar. Tax credits mostly benefit big utility companies. New rules favor big transmission infrastructure and the streamlining of corporate destruction of wildlands.
Many national environmental groups are as reactive and piecemeal in their approach to sustainability as Washington, and their frameworks tend to favor big industry development. Some have begun to advocate more vocally for distributed generation and energy efficiency, but their primary communications continue to boast about the production tax credit for a wind industry that builds new projects in the way of golden and bald eagles. Or they express pride in the White House's desire to build even more transmission lines across the country. All of this plays into industry's continued control of an energy paradigm that will keep us stuck in the past, with a significant and unhealthy dose of fossil fuels. It will be a tiresome path, but we will need to keep advocating for energy efficiency and distributed generation as the centerpieces of a broader environmental strategy that prioritizes sustainability of our natural resources. To do so, we will need others to become more aware of their impacts, and aware of the corporate interests that currently dictate policy priorities and set the status quo.